121. Listening Up (Mark 9:1-13)
“Realize that in this life we are travelers on a journey: our true home is in heaven.” - St. Cajetan
Mark 9:1-13: And he said to them, ‘I tell you solemnly, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.’ Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone by themselves. There in their presence he was transfigured: his clothes became dazzlingly white, whiter than any earthly bleacher could make them. Elijah appeared to them with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus. Then Peter spoke to Jesus: ‘Rabbi,’ he said, ‘it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say; they were so frightened. And a cloud came, covering them in shadow; and there came a voice from the cloud, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.’ Then suddenly, when they looked round, they saw no one with them any more but only Jesus. As they came down from the mountain he warned them to tell no one what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They observed the warning faithfully, though among themselves they discussed what ‘rising from the dead’ could mean. And they put this question to him, ‘Why do the scribes say that Elijah has to come first?’ ‘True,’ he said, ‘Elijah is to come first and to see that everything is as it should be; yet how is it that the scriptures say about the Son of Man that he is to suffer grievously and be treated with contempt? However, I tell you that Elijah has come and they have treated him as they pleased, just as the scriptures say about him.’
Christ the Lord We glimpse through the eyes of Christ’s three closest disciples the true glory of this humble carpenter from the small town of Nazareth. The transfiguration of Christ on Mt Tabor unveils for a shining moment Christ’s divinity, so subtly disguised during the rest of his earthly days. In Jesus Christ, heaven and earth meet; time and eternity mingle. St Mark points out that the brilliance of Christ’s countenance, and even of his clothes, surpassed the brightest imaginable experience of earthly light. He conversed with God’s closest Old Testament collaborators, Moses and Elijah, whose law and prophecies had prefigured him. The entire scene culminates in the descent of a cloud (the Holy Spirit) and the voice of God the Father… Jesus Christ is more than just another rabbi; in him we behold the “fullness of grace and truth,” the “glory of the father,” and the face of everlasting love (cf. John 1, 3:16). And yet, at the same time, he is just plain Jesus, the rabbi from Galilee. Christ indeed is a Lord unlike any other, full of divine power but gentle as the humblest friend, as the Sacrament of the Eucharist so eloquently bears witness.
Christ the Teacher When God the Father speaks from heaven, we ought to listen. No doubt he chooses his words carefully: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” Throughout all of history, mankind has sought answers to the pressing questions that simmer deep within the human heart: Why are we here? How can we find the happiness we long for so desperately? Why is there suffering and evil? What is the ultimate meaning of existence? Often, as attested by the great literature of human history, man has addressed these questions directly to God, and God has responded. But his response is a surprising one: his answer is a living person, not a formulaic philosophy – the person of his “beloved Son,” Jesus Christ. Through Christ’s life, teachings, death, and resurrection, God has answered all our questions more thoroughly than we could ever have imagined. Christ himself is the answer. As Pope John Paul II put it in his first encyclical letter, “The Redeemer of man, Jesus Christ, is the center of the universe and of history” (Redemptor hominis, 1).
By enjoining the three apostles to “listen to him,” the Father seems to imply that even though Christ is his beloved Son, not everyone will easily accept him. We hear a kind of plea in that command, a plea that should give us pause. Christ is the answer, but is he my answer? Do I listen to him? Do I follow him? He is the center of the universe, but is he the center of my life? The Father wants him to be – that’s why he sent him in the first place – but he leaves us free to make the choice.
The apostles’ question to Jesus about Elijah exemplifies our tendency to misinterpret God’s action in our lives. They are finally convinced that Jesus is the Messiah, after years of following him, listening to him, seeing his miracles, and now witnessing the Transfiguration. But a question lingers in their minds. The ancient prophecies said that Elijah would return to announce the Messiah’s arrival. So, if Jesus is the Messiah, where is Elijah? Jesus reaffirms the prophecy (we know from other Gospel passages that St John the Baptist, who had come in the spirit of Elijah, fulfilled that prophecy), but then he turns his companions’ minds once again to his coming passion. He asks them a rhetorical question, as if to say, “True, the prophecy about Elijah was not so easy to understand, but if you didn’t grasp the meaning of that one, how will you grasp the meaning of my coming passion, which is also prophesied in the Old Testament?” Jesus tells them repeatedly about his coming passion and resurrection, but they are unable to understand; they simply don’t listen – the idea of suffering turns them off. How like us they are!
Christ the Friend At times, God grants us exceptional clarity, joy, and satisfaction along our path of Christian discipleship. He does so because he knows that we need foretastes of the happiness he has in store for us if we are to endure the crosses that mark our way. But sometimes, like spoiled children, we hold on to those good feelings as if they were God himself. We echo Peter’s petition: “Lord, it is good for us to be here! Let’s just put up some tents and never leave!” But earth is not heaven, and God loves us too much to let us settle for anything less than the fullness of his friendship. And so, he leads us down from our high mountains and walks with us to Calvary, where he teaches us to love him and not just his gifts, to give of ourselves, and to store up our treasure in heaven.
Christ in My Life Why do I take you for granted? You are too patient with me. Maybe I need a dramatic, Transfiguration-type experience to wake me up. I believe in you, Lord. I believe that you are the Eternal King, the Lord, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. And I believe that you – the same Lord, God and Savior – are really and truly present in the Eucharist…
I want to keep listening to you, Lord…. Please speak to my heart. Help me to know what you would have me say and do in each moment, in each relationship of my life. Make me like you, so that the right thing, the true thing, the fruitful thing is my natural preference in every situation. Thy will be done, Lord, in every corner of my life…
You promises crosses, but you also promise resurrection. Get me ready for my crosses, because I want to experience the new life you won for me through your Resurrection. Teach me to die to everything that is selfish and petty, so that your grace and your life can flow through me and spread your Kingdom among everyone around me…
PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.
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